Nebraska beat Florida 3-1 in Kansas City on Saturday to win the fifth national title in program history and the fourth under John Cook. Here are three quick thoughts on the win and an unforgettable season for the Huskers.
1. Serve-and-Pass Wins the Day
Nebraska was probably the best serving team in the Final Four and probably the best passing team as well. Volleyball coaches refer to the “serve-and-pass game” all the time. It’s sort of like football coaches talking about outrushing the opponent. Is it the cause of winning or the effect? Either way, Nebraska won that battle against Florida and it should probably go down as the thing people remember most about this national-title team. It wasn’t the most talented team in the country, but tough serving and accurate passing are talent independent. That’s about execution. For the 2017 Huskers to be an elite team, they first had to be elite in these two categories and they were, especially in the two biggest matches of the season.
2. Hunter Plays All the Hits
It’s not news that senior setter Kelly Hunter is a singular player in a program that’s had plenty of great ones, but Saturday’s match showed just how much she brings to the table and it goes far beyond setting. She had 37 assists and fell two digs short of a double-double, but she also had a match-high two aces and, get this, six kills on 10 attempts. Her last kill was a crafty dump to the deep corner. She used all of the tools in her toolbox and there was no more fitting way for her to play her final match as a Husker.
3. Team Trumps Talent
It will be interesting to hear how Cook categorizes this team. He’s had some great ones, but few were easier to root for than this group that, based on turnover from 2016 on the court and on the bench, had every reason to be only “very good.” Instead, it was great. Florida was the team with the freak athletes. Not that Nebraska doesn’t have some of its own, it just doesn’t jump off the screen the way it does with the Gators. But man do the Huskers make it tough on opponents through flawless execution. This was pure volleyball, and it was fair to wonder if there was still a place for that kind of game in a sport that’s becoming defined by size and athleticism. “I’m as shocked as anybody that we’re in this position right here,” Cook said during his postgame interview on ESPN. If he feels that way, how is the rest of the volleyball world supposed to feel? Nebraska had to be the best team to have a shot this season, and it was essentially all season long.
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.